After Mercedes had left Monte Cristo, he fell into profound gloom. Around hi_nd within him the flight of thought seemed to have stopped; his energeti_ind slumbered, as the body does after extreme fatigue. "What?" said he t_imself, while the lamp and the wax lights were nearly burnt out, and th_ervants were waiting impatiently in the anteroom; "what? this edifice which _ave been so long preparing, which I have reared with so much care and toil, is to be crushed by a single touch, a word, a breath! Yes, this self, of who_ thought so much, of whom I was so proud, who had appeared so worthless i_he dungeons of the Chateau d'If, and whom I had succeeded in making so great, will be but a lump of clay to-morrow. Alas, it is not the death of the body _egret; for is not the destruction of the vital principle, the repose to whic_verything is tending, to which every unhappy being aspires, — is not this th_epose of matter after which I so long sighed, and which I was seeking t_ttain by the painful process of starvation when Faria appeared in my dungeon?
What is death for me? One step farther into rest, — two, perhaps, int_ilence.
"No, it is not existence, then, that I regret, but the ruin of projects s_lowly carried out, so laboriously framed. Providence is now opposed to them, when I most thought it would be propitious. It is not God's will that the_hould be accomplished. This burden, almost as heavy as a world, which I ha_aised, and I had thought to bear to the end, was too great for my strength, and I was compelled to lay it down in the middle of my career. Oh, shall _hen, again become a fatalist, whom fourteen years of despair and ten of hop_ad rendered a believer in providence? And all this — all this, because m_eart, which I thought dead, was only sleeping; because it has awakened an_as begun to beat again, because I have yielded to the pain of the emotio_xcited in my breast by a woman's voice. Yet," continued the count, becomin_ach moment more absorbed in the anticipation of the dreadful sacrifice fo_he morrow, which Mercedes had accepted, "yet, it is impossible that so noble- minded a woman should thus through selfishness consent to my death when I a_n the prime of life and strength; it is impossible that she can carry to suc_ point maternal love, or rather delirium. There are virtues which becom_rimes by exaggeration. No, she must have conceived some pathetic scene; sh_ill come and throw herself between us; and what would be sublime here wil_here appear ridiculous." The blush of pride mounted to the count's forehea_s this thought passed through his mind. "Ridiculous?" repeated he; "and th_idicule will fall on me. I ridiculous? No, I would rather die."
By thus exaggerating to his own mind the anticipated ill-fortune of the nex_ay, to which he had condemned himself by promising Mercedes to spare her son, the count at last exclaimed, "Folly, folly, folly! — to carry generosity s_ar as to put myself up as a mark for that young man to aim at. He will neve_elieve that my death was suicide; and yet it is important for the honor of m_emory, — and this surely is not vanity, but a justifiable pride, — it i_mportant the world should know that I have consented, by my free will, t_top my arm, already raised to strike, and that with the arm which has been s_owerful against others I have struck myself. It must be; it shall be."
Seizing a pen, he drew a paper from a secret drawer in his desk, and wrote a_he bottom of the document (which was no other than his will, made since hi_rrival in Paris) a sort of codicil, clearly explaining the nature of hi_eath. "I do this, O my God," said he, with his eyes raised to heaven, "a_uch for thy honor as for mine. I have during ten years considered myself th_gent of thy vengeance, and other wretches, like Morcerf, Danglars, Villefort, even Morcerf himself, must not imagine that chance has freed them from thei_nemy. Let them know, on the contrary, that their punishment, which had bee_ecreed by providence, is only delayed by my present determination, an_lthough they escape it in this world, it awaits them in another, and tha_hey are only exchanging time for eternity."
While he was thus agitated by gloomy uncertainties, — wretched waking dream_f grief, — the first rays of morning pierced his windows, and shone upon th_ale blue paper on which he had just inscribed his justification o_rovidence. It was just five o'clock in the morning when a slight noise like _tifled sigh reached his ear. He turned his head, looked around him, and sa_o one; but the sound was repeated distinctly enough to convince him of it_eality.
He arose, and quietly opening the door of the drawing-room, saw Haidee, wh_ad fallen on a chair, with her arms hanging down and her beautiful hea_hrown back. She had been standing at the door, to prevent his going ou_ithout seeing her, until sleep, which the young cannot resist, ha_verpowered her frame, wearied as she was with watching. The noise of the doo_id not awaken her, and Monte Cristo gazed at her with affectionate regret.
"She remembered that she had a son," said he; "and I forgot I had a daughter."
Then, shaking his head sorrowfully, "Poor Haidee," said he; "she wished to se_e, to speak to me; she has feared or guessed something. Oh, I cannot g_ithout taking leave of her; I cannot die without confiding her to some one."
He quietly regained his seat, and wrote under the other lines: —
"I bequeath to Maximilian Morrel, captain of Spahis, — and son of my forme_atron, Pierre Morrel, shipowner at Marseilles, — the sum of twenty millions, a part of which may be offered to his sister Julia and brother-in-la_mmanuel, if he does not fear this increase of fortune may mar thei_appiness. These twenty millions are concealed in my grotto at Monte Cristo, of which Bertuccio knows the secret. If his heart is free, and he will marr_aidee, the daughter of Ali Pasha of Yanina, whom I have brought up with th_ove of a father, and who has shown the love and tenderness of a daughter fo_e, he will thus accomplish my last wish. This will has already constitute_aidee heiress of the rest of my fortune, consisting of lands, funds i_ngland, Austria, and Holland, furniture in my different palaces and houses, and which without the twenty millions and the legacies to my servants, ma_till amount to sixty millions."
He was finishing the last line when a cry behind him made him start, and th_en fell from his hand. "Haidee," said he. "did you read it?"
"Oh, my lord," said she, "why are you writing thus at such an hour? Why ar_ou bequeathing all your fortune to me? Are you going to leave me?"
"I am going on a journey, dear child," said Monte Cristo, with an expressio_f infinite tenderness and melancholy; "and if any misfortune should happen t_e"
The count stopped. "Well?" asked the young girl, with an authoritative ton_he count had never observed before, and which startled him. "Well, if an_isfortune happen to me," replied Monte Cristo, "I wish my daughter to b_appy." Haidee smiled sorrowfully, and shook her head. "Do you think of dying, my lord?" said she.
"The wise man, my child, has said, `It is good to think of death.'"
"Well, if you die," said she, "bequeath your fortune to others, for if you di_ shall require nothing;" and, taking the paper, she tore it in four pieces, and threw it into the middle of the room. Then, the effort having exhauste_er strength, she fell not asleep this time, but fainting on the floor. Th_ount leaned over her and raised her in his arms; and seeing that sweet pal_ace, those lovely eyes closed, that beautiful form motionless and to al_ppearance lifeless, the idea occurred to him for the first time, that perhap_he loved him otherwise than as a daughter loves a father.
"Alas," murmured he, with intense suffering, "I might, then, have been happ_et." Then he carried Haidee to her room, resigned her to the care of he_ttendants, and returning to his study, which he shut quickly this time, h_gain copied the destroyed will. As he was finishing, the sound of a cabriole_ntering the yard was heard. Monte Cristo approached the window, and sa_aximilian and Emmanuel alight. "Good," said he; "it was time," — and h_ealed his will with three seals. A moment afterwards he heard a noise in th_rawing-room, and went to open the door himself. Morrel was there; he had com_wenty minutes before the time appointed. "I am perhaps come too soon, count,"
said he, "but I frankly acknowledge that I have not closed my eyes all night, nor has any one in my house. I need to see you strong in your courageou_ssurance, to recover myself." Monte Cristo could not resist this proof o_ffection; he not only extended his hand to the young man, but flew to hi_ith open arms. "Morrel," said he, "it is a happy day for me, to feel that _m beloved by such a man as you. Good-morning, Emmanuel; you will come with m_hen, Maximilian?"
"Did you doubt it?" said the young captain.
"But if I were wrong" —
"I watched you during the whole scene of that challenge yesterday; I have bee_hinking of your firmness all night, and I said to myself that justice must b_n your side, or man's countenance is no longer to be relied on."
"But, Morrel, Albert is your friend?"
"Simply an acquaintance, sir."
"You met on the same day you first saw me?"
"Yes, that is true; but I should not have recollected it if you had no_eminded me."
"Thank you, Morrel." Then ringing the bell once, "Look." said he to Ali, wh_ame immediately, "take that to my solicitor. It is my will, Morrel. When I a_ead, you will go and examine it."
"What?" said Morrel, "you dead?"
"Yes; must I not be prepared for everything, dear friend? But what did you d_esterday after you left me?"
"I went to Tortoni's, where, as I expected, I found Beauchamp and Chateau- Renaud. I own I was seeking them."
"Why, when all was arranged?"
"Listen, count; the affair is serious and unavoidable."
"Did you doubt it!"
"No; the offence was public, and every one is already talking of it."
"Well, I hoped to get an exchange of arms, — to substitute the sword for th_istol; the pistol is blind."
"Have you succeeded?" asked Monte Cristo quickly, with an imperceptible glea_f hope.
"No; for your skill with the sword is so well known."
"Ah? — who has betrayed me?"
"The skilful swordsman whom you have conquered."
"And you failed?"
"They positively refused."
"Morrel," said the count, "have you ever seen me fire a pistol?"
"Well, we have time; look." Monte Cristo took the pistols he held in his han_hen Mercedes entered, and fixing an ace of clubs against the iron plate, wit_our shots he successively shot off the four sides of the club. At each sho_orrel turned pale. He examined the bullets with which Monte Cristo performe_his dexterous feat, and saw that they were no larger than buckshot. "It i_stonishing," said he. "Look, Emmanuel." Then turning towards Monte Cristo,
"Count," said he, "in the name of all that is dear to you, I entreat you no_o kill Albert! — the unhappy youth has a mother."
"You are right," said Monte Cristo; "and I have none." These words wer_ttered in a tone which made Morrel shudder. "You are the offended party, count."
"Doubtless; what does that imply?"
"That you will fire first."
"I fire first?"
"Oh, I obtained, or rather claimed that; we had conceded enough for them t_ield us that."
"And at what distance?"
"Twenty paces." A smile of terrible import passed over the count's lips.
"Morrel," said he, "do not forget what you have just seen."
"The only chance for Albert's safety, then, will arise from your emotion."
"I suffer from emotion?" said Monte Cristo.
"Or from your generosity, my friend; to so good a marksman as you are, I ma_ay what would appear absurd to another."
"What is that?"
"Break his arm — wound him — but do not kill him."
"I will tell you, Morrel," said the count, "that I do not need entreating t_pare the life of M. de Morcerf; he shall be so well spared, that he wil_eturn quietly with his two friends, while I" —
"That will be another thing; I shall be brought home."
"No, no," cried Maximilian, quite unable to restrain his feelings.
"As I told you, my dear Morrel, M. de Morcerf will kill me." Morrel looked a_im in utter amazement. "But what has happened, then, since last evening, count?"
"The same thing that happened to Brutus the night before the battle o_hilippi; I have seen a ghost."
"And that ghost" —
"Told me, Morrel, that I had lived long enough." Maximilian and Emmanue_ooked at each other. Monte Cristo drew out his watch. "Let us go," said he;
"it is five minutes past seven, and the appointment was for eight o'clock." _arriage was in readiness at the door. Monte Cristo stepped into it with hi_wo friends. He had stopped a moment in the passage to listen at a door, an_aximilian and Emmanuel, who had considerately passed forward a few steps, thought they heard him answer by a sigh to a sob from within. As the cloc_truck eight they drove up to the place of meeting. "We are first," sai_orrel, looking out of the window. "Excuse me, sir," said Baptistin, who ha_ollowed his master with indescribable terror, "but I think I see a carriag_own there under the trees."
Monte Cristo sprang lightly from the carriage, and offered his hand to assis_mmanuel and Maximilian. The latter retained the count's hand between his. "_ike," said he, "to feel a hand like this, when its owner relies on th_oodness of his cause."
"It seems to me," said Emmanuel, "that I see two young men down there, who ar_vidently, waiting." Monte Cristo drew Morrel a step or two behind hi_rother-in-law. "Maximilian," said he, "are your affections disengaged?"
Morrel looked at Monte Cristo with astonishment. "I do not seek you_onfidence, my dear friend. I only ask you a simple question; answer it; — that is all I require."
"I love a young girl, count."
"Do you love her much?"
"More than my life."
"Another hope defeated!" said the count. Then, with a sigh, "Poor Haidee!"
"To tell the truth, count, if I knew less of you, I should think that you wer_ess brave than you are."
"Because I sigh when thinking of some one I am leaving? Come, Morrel, it i_ot like a soldier to be so bad a judge of courage. Do I regret life? What i_t to me, who have passed twenty years between life and death? Moreover, d_ot alarm yourself, Morrel; this weakness, if it is such, is betrayed to yo_lone. I know the world is a drawing-room, from which we must retire politel_nd honestly; that is, with a bow, and our debts of honor paid."
"That is to the purpose. Have you brought your arms?"
"I? — what for? I hope these gentlemen have theirs."
"I will inquire," said Morrel.
"Do; but make no treaty — you understand me?"
"You need not fear." Morrel advanced towards Beauchamp and Chateau-Renaud, who, seeing his intention, came to meet him. The three young men bowed to eac_ther courteously, if not affably.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," said Morrel, "but I do not see M. de Morcerf."
"He sent us word this morning," replied Chateau-Renaud, "that he would meet u_n the ground."
"Ah," said Morrel. Beauchamp pulled out his watch. "It is only five minute_ast eight," said he to Morrel; "there is not much time lost yet."
"Oh, I made no allusion of that kind," replied Morrel.
"There is a carriage coming," said Chateau-Renaud. It advanced rapidly alon_ne of the avenues leading towards the open space where they were assembled.
"You are doubtless provided with pistols, gentlemen? M. de Monte Cristo yield_is right of using his."
"We had anticipated this kindness on the part of the count," said Beauchamp,
"and I have brought some weapons which I bought eight or ten days since, thinking to want them on a similar occasion. They are quite new, and have no_et been used. Will you examine them."
"Oh, M. Beauchamp, if you assure me that M. de Morcerf does not know thes_istols, you may readily believe that your word will be quite sufficient."
"Gentlemen," said Chateau-Renaud, "it is not Morcerf coming in that carriage; — faith, it is Franz and Debray!" The two young men he announced were indee_pproaching. "What chance brings you here, gentlemen?" said Chateau-Renaud, shaking hands with each of them. "Because," said Debray, "Albert sent thi_orning to request us to come." Beauchamp and Chateau-Renaud exchanged look_f astonishment. "I think I understand his reason," said Morrel.
"What is it?"
"Yesterday afternoon I received a letter from M. de Morcerf, begging me t_ttend the opera."
"And I," said Debray.
"And I also," said Franz.
"And we, too," added Beauchamp and Chateau-Renaud.
"Having wished you all to witness the challenge, he now wishes you to b_resent at the combat."
"Exactly so," said the young men; "you have probably guessed right."
"But, after all these arrangements, he does not come himself," said Chateau- Renaud. "Albert is ten minutes after time."
"There he comes," said Beauchamp, "on horseback, at full gallop, followed by _ervant."
"How imprudent," said Chateau-Renaud, "to come on horseback to fight a due_ith pistols, after all the instructions I had given him."
"And besides," said Beauchamp, "with a collar above his cravat, an open coa_nd white waistcoat! Why has he not painted a spot upon his heart? — it woul_ave been more simple." Meanwhile Albert had arrived within ten paces of th_roup formed by the five young men. He jumped from his horse, threw the bridl_n his servant's arms, and joined them. He was pale, and his eyes were red an_wollen; it was evident that he had not slept. A shade of melancholy gravit_verspread his countenance, which was not natural to him. "I thank you, gentlemen," said he, "for having complied with my request; I feel extremel_rateful for this mark of friendship." Morrel had stepped back as Morcer_pproached, and remained at a short distance. "And to you also, M. Morrel, m_hanks are due. Come, there cannot be too many."
"Sir," said Maximilian, "you are not perhaps aware that I am M. de Mont_risto's friend?"
"I was not sure, but I thought it might be so. So much the better; the mor_onorable men there are here the better I shall be satisfied."
"M. Morrel," said Chateau-Renaud, "will you apprise the Count of Monte Crist_hat M. de Morcerf is arrived, and we are at his disposal?" Morrel wa_reparing to fulfil his commission. Beauchamp had meanwhile drawn the box o_istols from the carriage. "Stop, gentlemen," said Albert; "I have two word_o say to the Count of Monte Cristo."
"In private?" asked Morrel.
"No, sir; before all who are here."
Albert's witnesses looked at each other. Franz and Debray exchanged some word_n a whisper, and Morrel, rejoiced at this unexpected incident, went to fetc_he count, who was walking in a retired path with Emmanuel. "What does he wan_ith me?" said Monte Cristo.
"I do not know, but he wishes to speak to you."
"Ah?" said Monte Cristo, "I trust he is not going to tempt me by some fres_nsult!"
"I do not think that such is his intention," said Morrel.
The count advanced, accompanied by Maximilian and Emmanuel. His calm an_erene look formed a singular contrast to Albert's grief-stricken face, wh_pproached also, followed by the other four young men. When at three pace_istant from each other, Albert and the count stopped.
"Approach, gentlemen," said Albert; "I wish you not to lose one word of what _m about to have the honor of saying to the Count of Monte Cristo, for it mus_e repeated by you to all who will listen to it, strange as it may appear t_ou."
"Proceed, sir," said the count.
"Sir," said Albert, at first with a tremulous voice, but which graduall_ecame firmer, "I reproached you with exposing the conduct of M. de Morcerf i_pirus, for guilty as I knew he was, I thought you had no right to punish him; but I have since learned that you had that right. It is not Fernand Mondego'_reachery towards Ali Pasha which induces me so readily to excuse you, but th_reachery of the fisherman Fernand towards you, and the almost unheard-o_iseries which were its consequences; and I say, and proclaim it publicly, that you were justified in revenging yourself on my father, and I, his son, thank you for not using greater severity."
Had a thunderbolt fallen in the midst of the spectators of this unexpecte_cene, it would not have surprised them more than did Albert's declaration. A_or Monte Cristo, his eyes slowly rose towards heaven with an expression o_nfinite gratitude. He could not understand how Albert's fiery nature, o_hich he had seen so much among the Roman bandits, had suddenly stooped t_his humiliation. He recognized the influence of Mercedes, and saw why he_oble heart had not opposed the sacrifice she knew beforehand would b_seless. "Now, sir," said Albert, "if you think my apology sufficient, pra_ive me your hand. Next to the merit of infallibility which you appear t_ossess, I rank that of candidly acknowledging a fault. But this confessio_oncerns me only. I acted well as a man, but you have acted better than man.
An angel alone could have saved one of us from death — that angel came fro_eaven, if not to make us friends (which, alas, fatality renders impossible), at least to make us esteem each other."
Monte Cristo, with moistened eye, heaving breast, and lips half open, extende_o Albert a hand which the latter pressed with a sentiment resemblin_espectful fear. "Gentlemen," said he, "M. de Monte Cristo receives m_pology. I had acted hastily towards him. Hasty actions are generally ba_nes. Now my fault is repaired. I hope the world will not call me cowardly fo_cting as my conscience dictated. But if any one should entertain a fals_pinion of me," added he, drawing himself up as if he would challenge bot_riends and enemies, "I shall endeavor to correct his mistake."
"What happened during the night?" asked Beauchamp of Chateau-Renaud; "w_ppear to make a very sorry figure here."
"In truth, what Albert has just done is either very despicable or very noble,"
replied the baron.
"What can it mean?" said Debray to Franz. "The Count of Monte Cristo act_ishonorably to M. de Morcerf, and is justified by his son! Had I ten Yanina_n my family, I should only consider myself the more bound to fight te_imes." As for Monte Cristo, his head was bent down, his arms were powerless.
Bowing under the weight of twenty-four years' reminiscences, he thought not o_lbert, of Beauchamp, of Chateau-Renaud, or of any of that group; but h_hought of that courageous woman who had come to plead for her son's life, t_hom he had offered his, and who had now saved it by the revelation of _readful family secret, capable of destroying forever in that young man'_eart every feeling of filial piety.
"Providence still," murmured he; "now only am I fully convinced of being th_missary of God!"